Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for January 26, 2012

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Dolly above is a young female coonhound, obviously named in honor of the coonhound named Dolly that I rescued from Gwinnett County Animal Shelter. We had never had a coonhound before Dolly, and the more I learn about the breed, the cooler they are. They’re very athletic, great for a runner. Mellow in the home, our Dolly is an absolute couch potato, but she’s very playful when we take her to the dog park, and several people have stopped me when we’re out walking to mention how nice a dog she is. One of their breed traits is that they get along very well with other dogs, and our Dolly is no exception.

In honor of our rescue dog, one of our sponsors will reimburse the full adoption fee for anyone who adopts this Dolly from the Habersham County Animal Shelter in Clarkesville, Georgia. If you’re looking for a great hunting dog, or a home companion, consider one of these uniquely Southern beauties.

HabershamMichelle2Michelle is a young, female tan-and-white Lab/Hound mix who is available for adoption today from the Habersham County Animal Shelter in Clarkesville, Georgia.

Finally, this morning we have Duchess, who appears to be a Boxer mix, and who first brought my attention to the Habersham Shelter.

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Duchess is featured on Facebook because she spent her entire life with one owner, and when her owner died, Duchess found herself in the shelter, terrified. She can be adopted immediately from the Habersham County Animal Shelter, located at 4231 B. Toccoa Highway, Clarkesville, GA 30523 Phone: (706)839-0195 Email: [email protected]. Shelter Hours: Monday: Closed Tues-Friday: 10am-5:00 pm, they are closed from 12-1 PM for lunch and Saturday from 10 AM – 2 PM.

Here’s another picture of Duchess.

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

Today is Day Five of the 2013 Session of the Georgia General Assembly. Savannah-Chatham Day Seafood Fest will be Thursday at 5:30 PM at the Freight Depot across from the Capitol.

Senate 2014

Vote-Online-Survey-US-SenateAmong the candidates who are being discussed and haven’t removed themselves from the race already, former Governor Sonny Perdue led the field in a poll we conducted over the weekend with 22.4%, to the next potential candidate, Karen Handel, who garnered 15%.

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Full results of the survey will be released on our website at 7:45 AM.

Former Georgia Senate President Pro Tempore Eric Johnson (R-Savannah) tweeted on Friday, “Just agreed to handle @JackKingston4GA‘s exploratory effort while he is in Israel/India. Retweet if you want him to run. He would be great!” One might think that Eric Johnson would be a strong candidate for Kingston’s seat in Congress if it should open.

As far as a Karen Handel candidacy for either United States Senate or Congress, one factor that may sway her decision is that Rob Simms, her former Chief of Staff, is now Political Director of the National Republican Congressional Committee. Whether that means she would be without a major part of her past campaign teams, or that she would have a friendly face at the NRCC, we don’t know.

Governor 2014

From all accounts, Governor Nathan Deal will run for reelection, and we think he’s on a glide path to reelection. While Governor Deal and Tea Party activists haven’t always been best friends, it’s notable that Deal was presented with the Conservative Defender Award at this weekends Conservative Solutions Conference, co-hosted by Georgia Conservatives in Action and Atlanta Tea Party Patriots.

We ran a poll this weekend, and included a question about Governor Deal’s track record of handling the need for job growth in Georgia. More than 60 percent of GOP Primary voters surveyed approved of the job Deal is doing handling job creation; 18.6 percent disapprove, and 21.3 percent are undecided. That’s better than a 3:1 ratio for what is the most important issue today.

Results of the survey, along with the script and survey methodology, will be live on the website at 8:00 AM today.

Sixth Congressional District

If Congressman Tom Price were to run for Senate in 2014 or otherwise not seek reelection to his Congressional seat, we might be seeing a long list of Republicans line up for a shot.

We’ve already mentioned Karen Handel as a possibility for Senate, but if Price is in that race, she may well take a long look at his seat. I’ve heard people mention that State Senator John Albers might also consider running for it.

Finally, State Senator Judson Hill might be prepared to run for that seat or something else, if a flurry of action on Facebook and in real life are any indicators. This weekend, Hill was on a panel at the Southeastern Conservative Solutions event co-hosted by Georgia Conservatives in Action and Atlanta Tea Party Patriots. Hill also spoke Saturday at the DeKalb County Republican Party breakfast; good timing, given that DeKalb County is a larger percentage of the Sixth District than before the 2012 redistricting.

Back to 2013

The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer think that GPB’s hiring of former Senator Chip Rogers raises ethical questions.

Amid the high-profile discussion of stronger ethics laws in Georgia government, many observers have noted, rightly, that ethics means more than just caps on lobbyist gifts. It’s about larger issues of transparency and accountability.

If there’s an Exhibit A, it’s the hiring of a former state senator to a high-pay, high-profile job at Georgia Public Broadcasting.

GPB senior producer Ashlie Wilson Pendley has resigned, and some Georgians have put a hold on their donations, after Chip Rogers, former Senate majority leader, was handed a $150,000-a-year position that seems to have been created out of thin air. Rogers is now listed as “executive producer, community jobs program.”

Is this a government ethics issue? Believe it. It’s about the why, the when — and, most important, the who — behind Chip Rogers going straight from state Senate to state sinecure. Real ethics reform would mean nobody has to ask those questions.

The pace of lobbyist spending on legislators appears to have slowed since last summer’s referenda in which a majority of Georgians expressed approval of limiting the gifts.

That kind of public pressure, coupled with widespread media scrutiny of lobbying at the Capitol, appears to have chilled some lobbying activity even without a change in the law: In 2012, lobbyists reported spending 24 percent less on meals, sports tickets and other gifts to public officials — the first time in five years that spending has dropped.

“That is very interesting,” said Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, who is among a growing number of lawmakers who support a $100-per-gift cap. “I think it tells you that those of us who are advocating for limiting the spending are having an impact on behavior. And certainly having 1.2 million voters go to the polls and say they wanted to see this practice curtailed is having an effect.”

From the start, 2012 looked as if it would be a banner year for lobbyist generosity. Lobbyists reported spending $368,948 in January, up 20 percent over the prior January. Much of that spending came before discussion of lobbyist gift reform had yet to gain steam.

After January, spending was down for 10 of the remaining 11 months, an AJC analysis of lobbyist disclosures found.

The decline was especially evident after the party primaries last July.

Spending was already down – from January to July, lobbying spending was off by 15 percent – but after the primary the total amount reported plummeted by 49 percent over the prior year.

The Southern Education Foundation said it will file a complaint today alleging that the private school scholarship program is being abused and turned into a “back-door voucher”.

When the General Assembly approved the program, lawmakers said the money would enable poor students in public schools to move to private schools. Instead, the money appears to be going to students already in the private schools.

There have been reports that parents were making donations to schools that were then repackaged as “scholarships” for their own kids. In response to these allegations, the Georgia General Assembly has essentially shielded the program from public scrutiny, making changes in 2011 that make it a crime for state officials to release key information about the program.

Lawyers for embattled DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis, whose home was recently searched in an apparent probe of government contracting, fired on DeKalb County District Attorney Robert James, accusing the prosecutor of staging a media circus.

“I want to emphasize that I have done nothing wrong. The investigation started a year ago. I have cooperated 100 percent with the district attorney’s office,” Ellis said, adding, “Recent events have raised questions whether I’m being dealt with in good faith. ”

[Ellis lawyer Craig] Gillen also said he had concerns about whether the District Attorney Robert James was dealing with Ellis in good faith.

The district attorney’s representatives misrepresented the purpose of calling the CEO to testify before the special grand jury on Jan. 7, Gillen said. Ellis was told they wanted him to explain the plans for the capital improvement program for the Watershed Department but “that was not the real reason he was called.”

That morning Ellis received a voice mail message that the grand jury meeting was canceled but he was already at the courthouse so he met with the grand jury, Gillen said.

“While Ellis was with the grand jury answering questions, the media was setting up outside his house even before the investigators showed up,” Gillen said. “How did they know to be there? Why were they there?”

Search warrants are not a “spectator sport like a football game,” Gillen said, adding that alerting the media to set up at the house before the search was inappropriate for the district attorney.

“This is about fairness for Ellis and everyone,” Gillen said. “All we want is fair process for everyone. We expect it and we insist on it.”

Objective proof that the Georgia Public Service Commission, comprising five Republicans elected statewide, is doing a great job for consumers: despite lower production costs, the rate paid by consumers of Georgia Power are lower than those of our neighbors who use Alabama Power.

The price difference is substantial, according to an AL.com analysis of the annual reports of Alabama Power and Georgia Power, sister companies owned by Southern Co.

Between 2006 and 2011, Alabama Power produced the electricity sold to residential and commercial customers for $1.1 billion less than Georgia Power would have spent to make the same amount of electricity.

But despite that savings, Alabama Power charged its residential and commercial customers $1.5 billion more for electricity than Georgia Power would have charged during the six-year period.

The higher prices in Alabama mirror a pattern seen with the other major utilities regulated by the Alabama Public Service Commission.

Recent investigations by AL.com have shown that customers of Alabama’s two largest gas utilities pay more than twice as much for natural gas as customers in Mississippi pay. Alagasco, the state’s largest gas utility, is allowed to charge customers three times as much as a Georgia utility for operations and maintenance costs. Overall, those extra charges cost customers about $260 million in 2010.

Rates and profits for both Alabama Power and the state’s two largest gas utilities — Alagasco and Mobile Gas — are set by the Alabama Public Service Commission.

Informed of the new AL.com analysis, Alabama PSC president Twinkle Cavanaugh described the Alabama Power rates as “in the heart of the Southeast average.”

Naturally, Alabama Power takes a dim view of that analysis, rightly pointing out issues with making comparisons across state lines. Nonetheless, this is good news for Georgia consumers, and I suspect it will be good news for job creation in Georgia.

Roy Bowen, of the Georgia Manufacturing Association, says that repealing the sales tax on energy used in manufacturing, as the General Assembly did last session and Governor Deal signed in to law, has helped Georgia’s manufacturing economy.

Manufacturing employment figures have risen 3 and a half percent in Georgia year over year. The state has added more than 12-thousand factory jobs.

Roy Bowen, President of the Georgia Manufacturing Association, says things are looking up for the state.

“We’re seeing some recovery in the housing industry and that will have ripple effects throughout a large part of Georgia’s manufacturing base. And of course there is strength in autos. And Georgia is increasingly becoming a center for automobile production.”he says.

Bowen says the carpet sector in northwest Georgia has also announced significant capital investments.

“And a lot of that is tied to the tax reform legislation that beginning January of this year phases out the sales tax on energy used in manufacturing, making Georgia operations much more competitive.” he says.

Georgia Power is scheduled to release its 20-year plan for how it expects to meet ratepayers’ needs on Thursday.

Just five years ago, 70 percent of the fuel used by Georgia Power to produce electricity came from a source lambasted by environmentalists from shore to shore — coal.

Today, that number is down to 47 percent. And Georgia Power recently announced it will close 15 coal and oil-fired units, removing 20 percent of electrical capacity from its power grid.

Up to now, Georgia Power executives have shied away from saying how they would replace the electrical capacity if coal and oil units are shuttered. Georgia Power has won approval to buy electricity produced by natural gas from its sister company Southern Power, which could be a sign of what’s ahead.

“We are in the midst of a significant transition in our fleet that will result in a more diverse fuel portfolio — including nuclear, 21st century coal, natural gas, renewables and energy efficiency,” said Paul Bowers, Georgia Power’s president and chief executive officer.

Georgia Power’s alternative to coal likely will be its cleaner cousin, natural gas.

Georgia Power’s sister utility in Alabama has agreed to buy wind energy from Oklahoma.

“(Relying so heavily on natural gas) is kind of a big gamble. It’s a pendulum switch,” said Colleen Kiernan, president of the Sierra Club’s Georgia Chapter. Wind is an intermittent resource and, as with other sources of electricity, becomes less efficient if it has to be transported from far away.

Coal may not be completely off the table in the future. Georgia Power’s sister utility in Mississippi is building a plant that converts coal to gas, then strips the carbon dioxide and other pollutants. Company executives tout the plant’s technology and have said, if successful, it could be used across Southern’s four-state territory.

Nonetheless, a number of local governments have chosen to pass their own sales tax on energy used in manufacturing, to replace the portion of the now-repealed state sales tax that formerly went to the local jurisdictions. DeKalb County did so just this month.

Delays in the completion of the Panama Canal’s deepening couple with delays in deepening Savannah River access to the Port of Savannah to create a reverse race.

Work on the river is scheduled to begin in the second half of this year with the finish in mid-2016, assuming Congress appropriates its share of the estimated $625 million project. That would be roughly a year after the wider canal is supposed to open, according to the latest schedule.

State Rep. Jay Roberts, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said a tour for a multistate delegation of legislators he led recently left him optimistic about catching up to the Panamanians.

“I actually think that they’re not going to be on schedule. They want to tell you they are, but behind closed doors, there’s some discussion that they may be running a little behind,” said Roberts, R-Ocilla. “That may help us.”

An eighty-foot wooden shipwreck believed to date from the mid-1800s has been found on Cumberland Island.

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